If businesses of all types and sizes want anything, it’s a way to reach customers directly. Now Facebook says it has streamlined the business of staying in touch.
Today, the social media giant introduced new features that let businesses communicate with their customers via private messages using Facebook’s Messenger app. The new features are among the ways Facebook is looking to monetize the app, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters recently.
Now, when an ad appears in a Facebook user’s news feed, the advertising business can include a "send message" button in the ad. The button allows users to click in and send private messages to the business. Likewise, if a user posts a comment on the business’s Facebook page, the business can then send the user a private message.
Previously, administrators of businesses' Facebook pages could only respond to customers either via comments or private messages. Now they will be able to reply to public comments with private messages. Admins can also create and save boilerplate responses to commonly asked questions.
The move toward private messaging between a business and its customers is part of Facebook’s effort to make Messenger a standalone platform, and to get small and medium-size businesses to advertise on the platform. Facebook especially has its eye on small and midsize businesses in emerging markets outside the United States, such as India.
Nate Elliott, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, told us he saw potential in Facebook’s effort to break down more barriers between buyers and sellers.
"This is Facebook looking to redefine the definitions of engagement between business and customers," said Elliott. "Being able to communicate directly should lead to greater customer satisfaction."
Facebook has been looking for ways to increase the use of (and subsequently increase revenue from) Messenger. The service is a chat function that is similar to text messaging. It has been built into Facebook since 2008 (an app for tablets and smartphones was introduced in 2011). Since then, the company has tried to expand Messenger’s functions to allow it to do things such as send photos and other items from one member to another. Facebook said the number of people using it each month has grown to more than 700 million.
The new features in Messenger include incentives that reward quick service. For instance, Facebook will award badges to businesses that respond to 90 percent of messages with a median response time of less than five minutes. Also, users will be able to opt out of the interaction by blocking incoming messages from businesses.
"This is a positive step because up to now, interaction on Facebook between businesses and customers has been limited to a handful of things," said Elliott. "No marketer has ever proven a positive correlation between likes and sales."